Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Turnabout Goodbyes


"Even if you manage avoid the fangs of the dragon soaring into the heaven, you will not be able to move freely because of the raging wind and be teared apart by its claws"
"Rurouni Kenshin"

Now that the temperature has finally started to drop beneath 15 degrees Celsius here in Kyoto, I noticed that the heat insulation of my room is absolutely horrible. I should move my laptop away from the window. I am actually wearing a coat inside my room as I'm writing this (I could just switch on the heater of course, theoretically).

Revoir series
Marutamachi Revoir
Karasuma Revoir
Imadegawa Revoir
Kawaramachi Revoir 

Van Madoy's Karasuma Revoir is set one month after the events of Marutachi Revoir and is once again centered around the Gathering of the Twin Dragons: a private trial which has been a custom in the city of Kyoto as long as people can remember. There is nothing legally binding to the outcomes of these trials, but you would be a fool to not honor the verdicts, because all the influental families in Kyoto are connected to the Gathering one way or another. The trials are 'performed' by people called Dragons, who act as prosecutor (Yellow Dragon) or defense attorney (Blue Dragon) at the trials. The Dragons have the task of presenting plausible cases to the judge and audience: note that this does not mean that they have to present the truth. The competence of a Dragons lies in his/her ability in presenting a whole variety of interpretations and theories based the evidence, as well as on-the-spot improvising and showmanship. In short: they need to think fast and speak interestingly.

We were introduced to the Tatsuki clan of Dragons in the previous novel, led by the young Rakka. At the end of Marutamachi Revoir, the clan gained some new blood, something definitely needed for their next Gathering of the Twin Dragons. The trial has been requested by the two remaining living Ayaori brothers, who are fighting over the rights to the ancient book Kiboronaiki. It used to belonged to their brother, who has died in a mysterious car accident. The Tatsuki clan acts for brother Fumirou, while brother Takerou seems to have somehow found Sangetsu The Whisper, a legendary masked Dragon dressed in a black cloak, who disappeared years ago. What makes it even worse is that Sangetsu used to work for the Tatsuki clan, which means he knows all of their techniques.

Karasuma Revoir is the second novel in Van Madoy's Revoir series, but it reads very differently from Marutamachi Revoir, despite the story revolving around the Gathering again. The previous novel was clearly structured in two halves: the investigation prior to the trial, and with the action, deducing and surprises reserved for the actual Gathering of the Twin Dragons itself. This time however, most of the story is spent on the investigation, where the Dragons of the Tatsuki clan try to find evidence that proves that brother Takerou is guilty of murdering the eldest Ayaori brother (whether it is true or not). In most novels I know, the investigation phases are relatively the most boring parts of the stories, but nothing could be more different in Karasuma Revoir.

As I mentioned before: the Gathering of the Twin Dragons isn't about the law, and Dragons have to act as investigators themselves. They have to locate and secure evidence themselves. Result: Dragons are mostly busy trying to 1) find evidence, 2) falsify evidence, 3) making sure their own evidence doesn't fall in the hands of the rival Dragonr and 4) making sure they can get their hands on the evidence of the rival Dragon. In short: you have a group of fairly intelligent people who are trying to outthink and outsmart each other. With logic.

It results in a dynamic you usually just don't see in detective novels. I mentioned constantly switching between offense and defense with my own deductions in Ooyama Seichirou's Misshitsu Shuushuuka, where every time I thought I was closing in on the truth, I was harshly told otherwise: in Karasuma Revoir, everyone is constantly forced to switch between offense and defense with their deductions regarding the case and what the rival Dragon is planning to do. It is reminiscent of the manga Spiral ~ Suiri no Kizuna, which was also about outsmarting the enemy with logical deductions.

Once set in motion, the Revoir stories just seem to flow, with people reacting to each other's deductions, resulting in new discoveries which in turn lead to new deductions. Madoy keeps feeding the reader, as well as his own characters, new turnabouts which change the direction of the story, but not in a way that feels artificial. In The Da Vinci Code for example, events and cliffhangers just seem to be plot devices to get the characters from A to B. In the Revoir stories, all the turnabouts are actual crucial parts of the overall story, being results of the logical actions of the story actors (even if at first, this might not be clear). What at first might seem like a cheap development just to lengthen the story, will actually turn out to be a vital part in the (logical) chain of events that lead up to the final conclusion of the story.

As a sequel to Marutamachi Revoir, Karasuma Revoir feels quite different and yet familiar. The story features the same protagonists, and also tells us more about the Gathering of the Twin Dragons and the Tatsuki clan. Karasuma Revoir is technically also split in an investigation and trial phase like its predecessor, but the way Madoy shifted the focus of the story to the investigation phase, really changes the dynamics of the story. I guess that Madoy not only wants to keep his readers on their toes with his individual books, but also with his series as a whole. And I would say that he succeeded with Karasuma Revoir.

Original Japanese title(s): 円居挽 『烏丸ルヴォワール』

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